Monthly Archives: April 2008

Do Unto Others

Sports have a way of bringing out the best and the worst in all of us. Just ask any local umpire if he or she wants to umpire a slow pitch church league game. There is nothing like an enraged Baptist preacher hyped up on adrenalin that will put the fear of the Almighty in you.

Rarely does Division II women’s softball get the headlines in the dog-eat-dog world of sports, especially a battle between longtime basement dwellers like Western Oregon and Central Washington. These two programs for years had historically spent the playoff studying for exams. However this year they found themselves in a winner take all battle to make the playoffs. Whoever emerged victorious after this double header on a beautiful April afternoon in Ellensburg would get the opportunity to make the NCAA playoffs for the first time in a long time.

Central Washington won the first game 8-1, and was now in position to claim their playoff berth. The score was tied 0-0 in the bottom of the second, when rarely used senior centerfielder Sara Tucholsky stepped to the plate to the heckling of the small rambunctious crowd. The first pitch as a strike. On the second pitch little 5’2 Tucholsky connected with all her might and the ball went sailing toward the centerfield fence. To her amazement and the disbelief of the hometown fans the ball cleared the fence for her first career home run. In her excitement, Tucholsky missed first base and abruptly stopped to return to the bag. Something popped in her knee and she fell to the dirt writhing in pain. While the fans watched the two lead runners cross the plate, first base coach Shannon Prochaska came to Tucholsky’s side. She knew not to touch her because if she did the home run would be cancelled, and Sara would be out. She discussed the dilemma with the umpire, and quickly reviewed her options. If Sara could crawl back to first base, and a pinch runner could enter the game, and she would be credited with powerful two-run single.

This appeared under the circumstances to be the logical heart-breaking choice for Sara that is until a third voice entered the conversation. Central Washington senior first baseman Mallory Holtman interrupted the conversation saying, “Excuse me, would it be OK if we carried her around and she touched each bag?” After a brief moment of scratching their heads, and realizing there were no rules against an opponent carrying a runner around the bases the idea was hatched and sports history was made. Holtman and shortstop Liz Wallace picked up Sara and carried her back to first so she could gingerly touch the bag, and they made their way around the bases giggling all the way until they reach home plate and Tucholsky recorded her first and only home run in her career.

What possesses an opponent to go to such measures for another? “Honestly, it’s one of those things that I hope anyone would do it for me, “said Holtman. “She hit the ball over her fence. She’s a senior; it’s her last year…I don’t know, it just one of those things I guess that maybe because compared to everyone on the field at the time, I had been playing longer and knew we could touch her, it was my idea first. But I think anyone who knew that we could touch her would have offered to do it, just because it is the right thing to do. She was obviously in agony.”

I don’t know if anyone would do this, but I am proud for her and her teammates that she did. This act of kindness and compassion eventually led to Central Washington’s defeat, but for once both teams walked or “limped” away as winners.

Jesus had a point when He challenged His followers with these words:

12 So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets. Matt 7:12 (NIV)

Life does not have to be nearly as complicated and gray as we make it. This principle applies to every situation we face in life from the office to the baseball diamond. Can you imagine how much the world would change if we simply put into practice this “golden rule”?

The next time you have a chance to make history do it, especially when it is as simple as giving someone a lift home!

Note if you want to read the full story from ESPN below is the address:

http://sports.espn.go.com/ncaa/columns/story?columnist=hays_graham&id=3372631&lpos=spotlight&lid=tab4pos1

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New Front Door

New Front Door

There is an old joke about three new ministers who moved into a small town. When the Methodist pastor moved into town he asked “Where are all the Methodists?” Likewise when the Presbyterian minister moved into town he asked “Where are all the Presbyterians?”When the Baptist minister moved into town he asked, “Where are all the people?” The point of this joke was simply Baptists go after all the people. It seems this message no longer holds true for most of our churches.

Ed Stetzer, director of Lifeway Research, recently report on his blog (http://blogs.lifeway.com/blog/edstetzer/2008/04/new_evangelism_research.html ) his findings on the effectiveness of the evangelism of Southern Baptist churches. It should be noted that the baptism records of the SBC have declined over the past several years.

Stetzer pointed out that if a local church’s strategy for reaching its community was dependent upon reaching out to those who visit their church, then more than likely they will primary grow with “church switchers” rather than new followers of Jesus.

To stress his point Stetzer wrote:

“Too often the way our churches measure success revolves around what happens at church when we ought to be focusing on what happens in building intentional relationships with those far from Christ,” McConnell said. “Some of the activities on our church calendars may actually be preventing effective evangelism by keeping believers away from the people they need to reach.”

“Believers must resolve to step into their world to share the Good News with them,” Stetzer explained. “If we are waiting for them to someday walk into our churches, that someday may never come.

“We have tried that approach for decades – many church buildings/services are looking great. They have new looks, new music and new strategies,” he added. “We have gone to great length to fix up the barn, but the wheat is still not harvesting itself. I believe we must move from attractional ‘come and see’ ministry to incarnational ‘go and tell’ and join Jesus in the harvest fields all around us.”

As I have reflected on his observations, it was a reality check for me. We have an ongoing FAITH ministry that follows up on our prospects every Monday evening. Over the past five years on prospect visits on those who visited our church I have only visited two families that were seeking a personal relationship with Jesus. As a pastor-leader I too need to learn to move outside of my comfort zone and find ways to engage my community and begin to build intentional relationships with those who need the Lord.

I am also convicted as a leader of a large local church that I need to begin to help our church begin to find ways to penetrate our community with the good news. One reason we need to reach out is the fact that our church facilities are very imposing and confusing to be honest. I often joke that our assimilation plan is that once you get in our buildings you can never find your way out. All kidding aside, the vast majority of our small town is highly unlikely to darken the doors of our church. I pray the Lord will help us to create a “new front door” into the Kingdom. I suspect it will start by our member opening the “front doors” of their homes and hearts to their friends, and neighbors. In addition, we will also have to be more proactive about knocking on their “front doors” and looking for places where God is at work in the hearts of people. “Go and Tell” was the DNA of our early Baptist forefathers, and it is high time we get back to the basics again.

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Sad News

Ed Stetzer, director of Lifeway Research, announced the bad news that the Southern Baptist Convention is “officially” in decline. You can find his observations at http://blogs.lifeway.com/blog/edstetzer/2008/04/new_evangelism_research.html.

For those close to the action this should not come as shocking news. Over the past 25 years our convention has been rocked with strife and controversy as vying factions struggled for control. Even after the “Conservative resurgence” accomplished its mission and planted the banner of the Bible securely in place, conservative turned on conservative and new lines of orthodoxy have been traced in the shifting sands. For all our good intentions on both sides, we have created a public relations nightmare. Instead of being known for proclaiming the good news and meeting the needs of the poor we are known for what we are against and too often know as the “battling Baptists” who cannot seem to get along.

Being people of the book, we should have known better. In our fighting over the Word of God we seemed to forget to live out the Word of God in our day to day lives. Jesus made it crystal clear to His disciples that the mark of following Jesus was not theological orthodoxy but rather love when He said:

34 “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. 35 By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” John 13:34-35 (NIV)

Let’s face it you can fake theology by learning by rote what to say, but rarely can one fake genuine unconditional love for those closest to him or her.

From Stetzer’s informed perspective the SBC lost its way on three fronts he wrote:

First, we have to deal with the continued loss of SBC leaders. As we have recently reported in Facts & Trends, we have witnessed a serious (and increasing) depopulation of young leaders at our convention. Also, ethnic leadership remains absent after decades of ethnic change in America. Vacant seats still exist at the SBC table for the ethnic and generational diversity that matches the America we are attempting to reach.

A second issue is the infighting which defines so much of the SBC—its meetings, its churches, and its blogs. It is public knowledge that we do not always settle our differences amicably.

The third, and most important, issue is our loss of focus on the Gospel…The Conservative Resurgence failed to produce a Great Commission Resurgence. It restored our denomination’s value of Scripture but application is often absent, at least in the area of evangelism.

I hope and pray we will wake up and face the reality of our plight. We cannot no longer do business as usual and expect to be a useful tool in the hand of our Master. Jesus is calling us to wake up and face the truth about what we are doing to ourselves and more importantly to those who need to know Jesus.

In the book of Revelation, Jesus confronted the “lukewarm” church of Laodicea with the fact they were living in denial. In closing the Lord said:

20 Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me. Rev 3:20 (NIV)

Through the years this verse has been quoted by evangelist pleading with the lost to open the doors of their hearts to Jesus, but the harsh reality is that in this text Jesus is not knocking on the door a lost man or woman. Jesus is knocking on the door of the church asking for His people to let Him back in. Do you hear the knocking? Maybe it’s time to let the Lord back inside the doors of our churches.

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Good Hands

Yesterday I had to honor to be the guest speaker in chapel at Dallas Baptist University as a guest of Dr. Gary Cook. It had been probably over 20 years since I had set foot on the campus. My first memories of the university date back to Otis Strickland and stories of Decatur Baptist College. My father received his first honorary doctorate from DBU when I was in high school, so the school has always held a special place in the hearts of the Lowrie clan. When I turned up the drive to climb the hill leading to the campus it reminded me of a city of light on a hill. What once was a Spartan campus had become an oasis of beauty and learning.

Under Dr. Cook’s leadership DBU has embraced its future with a bold aggressive vision of taking Christian higher education to new heights. The campus grounds reveal the majestic beauty of God’s hand at work through green grass, flowers, trees, and ponds. To keep up with the growth of the student body the university has added new buildings and housing for students. Currently DBU is building two new buildings that will be great additions to the campus.

I walked away from this experience with two profound impressions. I was deeply impressed by how a humble willing servant of the Lord can make such a big difference over the course of twenty years. I had read the statistics of the amazing growth and vitality of DBU under Dr. Cook’s leadership but to walk the campus with him opened my eyes to a reality stats can never capture. Dr. Cook at the ripe old age of 37 years old took on a God-sized task and became a useful instrument in His hand. He confessed that at times he turned to the Lord in desperate prayer, but he kept turning the Lord and the rest is history. In many ways the story of DBU should impact the students as much as the lessons taught in the classrooms. Life lessons often are much more powerful in changing the hearts and lives of people.

The second impression I walked away with revolves around the students themselves. Even though I had brief passing conversations with a few. The experience of worshipping with them touched me. Too often we measure universities by endowments and stately buildings. Universities are much like churches in that respect. The true significance of a university is not its structure but rather its student body. If our future rests in the hands of the coming generation then we are in good hands. The students of DBU and all our Baptist schools are preparing to be the heroes of tomorrow. Our investment in their futures is one of the greatest investments we can make for the Kingdom of God.

I am discovering there is more and more good news in the BGCT if you are willing to go out and look. Granted we have problems and difficulties, but let’s not overlook the amazing things God is doing right under our noses.

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A Singing Lesson

This past weekend our church had the honor of hosting all seven chapters of the “Singing Women of Texas”. These choirs are a music ministry of the Baptist General Convention of Texas. Each region chapter has its own director, choir, and mission. I believe once a year they convene for a combined concert and weekend. We hosted over 220 women from all over the state up in the Panhandle of Texas. It was amazing to see how far they were willing to come to sing and worship together.

The choirs were made up of women of all ages. There were young “girls” in their 20’s and there were a large number of “grandmothers”. At one point during the combined concert I closed my eyes and let the harmony, and majesty of the music wash over me as these women lifted their hearts and voices toward heaven. During the concert we experience all kinds of music from classical, to contemporary. The woman sang gospel music and the historic hymns of the faith. The concert expressed the broad scope of the Christian experience.

In many ways these women set the example for how we need to cooperate together as we seek to expand the Kingdom. Each woman lent her voice to the music individually yet her voice blended in with all the other voices in harmony to produce music that reached to the throne room of God. We could learn a lesson from this example. Each of us have a voice and a part to play, but the power of our music comes when we join our voices together in harmony under the direction of one conductor—the Lord Jesus. Too often as Texans we take our desire for individuality and independence to an extreme and we lose the power of working together. Granted each of us has personal responsibility, but we are all interdependent on each other.

Recently I have been teaching through the Lord’s Prayer and it struck me that Jesus taught us to pray “Give us this day our daily bread…forgive us our sins as we forgive everyone indebted to us”. Jesus taught us to pray in the “plural”. Daily He wanted us to be reminded we are in this together.

I am pretty good at making a “joyful noise” unto the Lord, so may not want to stand too close to me in the choir, but it is an honor to sing with you to our King.

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Spectator Sport

Reggie Joiner, the founder of “ReThink” ministries made this observation about the struggle churches continue to experience in keeping their youth involved in church after graduation from high school. In the book Unchristian he wrote:

“We have discovered a short window of time during the teenage years when students need to experience something beyond church as a spectator sport. If a young person is not challenged by hands-on personal ministry, their faith will likely be sidetracked and even sabotaged.”

Louie Giglio, founder of Passion, echoed this truth when he wrote of a shift he has observed in the lives of college students across the land.

“It is clear to me that something significant has absolutely shifted this generation. I think it is God’s great kindness stirring our hearts to show His great kindness to the world. With this behind us, the students at Passion aren’t the ones who look good, and this generation doesn’t look like a hands-on, get-involved, do-something generation, God looks good. And God looks like a hands-on, get-involved, do-something God.”

These insights remind me of the words of Jesus when He said:

“Let your light so shine before men that they will see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven” Matthew 5:16 KJV

I too fear we have turned the people of God into spectators rather than servants. Too often they function as critics rather than contributors.

So how do we get the people out of the stands and into the game? I believe we need to think outside the box. Too often ministry within the life of the church consists of squeezing into the squares and circles of committee life and Sunday School. Could it be God has created many of us to function more like triangles, rectangles, and octagons.

I am not suggesting we do away with the circles and squares of traditional ministry. I am simply suggesting we unleash the people of God to be His hands and feet in a wide variety of ways. As a leader I need to learn to listen to the passion of those I lead and help them follow their hearts and spiritual gifts to effectiveness in ministry.

In some ways I lose control, but in the big scheme of things I never really had control anyway. The church will be much more effective when the Holy Spirit calls the plays, and His people get in the game.

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Good News from Dallas Baptist University

Over the past couple of years too often the news out of Dallas has been sad and sobering. We need to remember that light drives out the darkness, and that good news lifts the spirit. Not all news today is bad news in Texas Baptist life. In fact this month Dallas Baptist University celebrates twenty years of outstanding leadership by their President Gary Cook. With the help of the Lord Dr. Cook has done an amazing job of turning around a struggling Baptist institution into a thrive university shaping the lives of men and women and shining its light into the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex and beyond.

To give some perspective to this story of growth and change Blake Killingsworth reported these facts:

For the last 20 years, Cook has led DBU to achieve many goals. This past fall semester, the school enjoyed an enrollment of 5,244 students, an increase of 182% since the fall of 1987 when enrollment stood at 1,859. In addition, graduate enrollment has increased by 546% since the fall of 1988, with a total last fall of 1,673 enrolled in 19 graduate programs and two doctoral programs.

In a time when cutbacks in Baptist life are circulating, DBU is breaking new ground. As I read about the exploits of the university the thing that struck me was the wisdom of Dr. Cook in the early days of his tenure. Instead of turning first to consulting firms or donors, he called on his faculty, staff, student body, and alumni to pray. He established an intercessory prayer ministry as one of his first acts as the new president and claimed the words of Jeremiah as his vision for the future. Jeremiah wrote:

11 For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. 12 Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. 13 You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. Jer 29:11-13 (NIV)

I think there is a huge lesson to be learned here whether you want to apply it to your personal life, local church or the struggles faced by the BGCT. Turning to the Lord in prayer should always be our first resort not our last! When we seek Him with “all” our hearts we change and the world around us changes. A little desperation never hurts on this journey of faith.

In closing, possibly some of the best news coming out of DBU is the news that the leukemia that struck Dr. Cook last year is in remission and he is on the road to recovery. The Lord knew we needed a statesman like Dr. Cook during these exciting days of opportunity and change that lay ahead. Thank you Gary Cook for being a light for us to follow.

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